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Published December 14, 2012, 11:40 PM

Chills bring ills: Take these steps to fend off ailments common in winter

FARGO – Late nights, stress, changes in eating habits, colder temperatures and less daylight can put people in a winter funk.

By: Anna G. Larson, INFORUM

FARGO – Late nights, stress, changes in eating habits, colder temperatures and less daylight can put people in a winter funk.

Our bodies are more vulnerable to sickness in the winter months due to increased time spent inside around other people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Three Fargo professionals shared their tips for staying healthy in the winter.

Holistic approach

Juliet Trnka, owner of Fifth Element studio in Fargo and Ayurveda practitioner, says it’s important to take care of ourselves year-round to make sure we’re in a cycle of health, rather than imbalance.

“How we take care of ourselves today will impact how we feel next season,” Trnka said.

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of medicine that focuses on balancing the mind, body and spirit to prevent illness and promote wellness.

The first step to staying healthy in the winter is to honor the body’s basic needs, like getting enough sleep, Trnka said.

She recommends going to sleep no later than 10 p.m. and waking up around 6 a.m.

“In the winter, we can sleep in a little, maybe until 7, but we don’t want to be sleeping in until 8 or 9,” she said.

Staying up past 10 p.m. can deplete people of the energy that supports the healthy functioning of their body.

“People get a second wind and think that they’ll clean their house or something, but they’re going to have a lot harder time falling asleep,” she said.

Keeping stress in check is also crucial to feeling well and staying healthy. Stress, Trnka said, impacts the body more than most people understand.

“I think a lot of people feel trapped by their lifestyle,” she said.

Meditation, yoga, deep breathing and having a network of support in which to turn can all help reduce stress, she said. Trnka also encourages her clients to have a relationship with a higher power or energy.

“It’s important to recognize that you’re part of something larger,” she said.

Body movement, too, is important in winter, she said. Trnka recommends exercising regularly but not pushing to the brink of exhaustion.

“Winter can be a more delicate time for people, physically,” she said. “Moderate exercise that corresponds with your energy level that day is good.”

Protect your health

Once the cold weather sets in, the term “flu” becomes synonymous with everything from coughing to vomiting.

But Dr. Augusto Alonto, department chairman for infectious disease at Sanford Health, says calling every sickness “the flu” is a misnomer.

“When doctors say ‘the flu,’ what they really mean is the influenza virus,” he said.

Influenza rarely causes stomach upset, although most people will refer to a stomach virus as “the flu,” he said.

Influenza virus season usually starts in October and lasts until March, although he’s seen it last from September to May or June. Physicians will continue giving the influenza vaccine as long as they keep seeing new infections.

Protecting yourself from the influenza virus is important because it can be fatal, Alonto said. It can lead to pneumonia in the elderly, children and other people with compromised immune systems.

He recommends the influenza vaccine, or flu shot, for everyone older than 6 months. The flu shot protects people from the most common viruses that are circulating, Alonto said.

People cannot get sick from the vaccine, a common misconception, because it isn’t a live vaccine, he said. A live vaccine contains a weakened version of the living microbe that can’t cause disease. The nasal influenza vaccine is a live vaccine. Generally, people don’t get sick from it because it’s not used on people who have weak immune systems, he said.

Alonto’s supplemental tips for fending off influenza and other sicknesses include:

• Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.

• Cover your cough so germs don’t spread.

• Stay away from others when you’re sick, and stay away from people who are sick.

• Drink plenty of fluids.

• Avoid touching handrails, door knobs and other public objects that people touch daily. Viruses can live on those objects for a while, Alonto said. If you do touch them, don’t let your hands go near your face.

Nourish your body

A large part of the holidays is centered around food, and most of that food is dense with sugar and fat.

What we eat impacts how we feel and how healthy we are in the winter months and year round, says Sherri N. Stastny, a licensed registered dietitian and assistant professor at North Dakota State University.

“I often hear how folks just want to nap or sleep after the big meal,” she said. “If you are so full that you are miserable, yes, you’ll want to hang out in that recliner. If you eat a moderate amount of just the foods that are really your favorites, you’ll feel better, have more energy, and get to enjoy the holidays as much as possible.”

Stastny’s tips for curbing overindulgence and weight gain and maintaining nutrition during the holidays are:

• Choose treats mindfully. “If you don’t care for a treat that you have selected, do not eat it,” Stastny said.

Choosing to eat only your favorite desserts ensures that you’ll be satisfied.

• Take your time and listen to your body when eating.

“Are you really hungry for a second helping?” Stastny asks.

• Eat breakfast and don’t skip meals. You’ll only binge later, she says.

• Subbing healthier ingredients in holiday recipes can add nutrition and cut fat.

One of Stastny’s favorites is using plain Greek yogurt instead of cream or sour cream in soups, dips and sauces. She said it adds yummy creaminess and is packed with protein.

• Exercise to burn off extra calories.

• Eat foods rich in nutrients like Vitamins A, C, E, B6, B12, D, folic acid, iron, zinc, copper and selenium, which contribute to the body’s natural defenses against sicknesses. Vegetables, fish, nuts and whole grains are good sources of those nutrients.

• Limit alcohol intake. A 4-ounce glass of wine or a 12-ounce beer count as one drink.

• Drink water. Winter furnaces and car heaters lead to dehydration. Aim to drink at least 8 to 10 ounces of fluid per waking hour or more if you feel thirsty or are exercising, Stastny said.

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